Cellphone users to get better 911 services, but its still not like the movies

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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MONTREAL - Cellphone users calling 911 can expect their location to be more accurate, but are being warned the improved service won't be like what's seen in the movies or on TV.
It won't be able to precisely pinpoint a person's location, the president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association said Wednesday.
Callers still need to tell the 911 operator where they are, Bernard Lord said in an interview.
"This is not like in the movies," he said, adding it's also not like the TV show 24 where agent Jack Bauer's location is always being found.
But emergency services will be able to locate callers better than before using either GPS technology on mobile phones or through the use of cell towers, or a combination of both, he said.
"It can be as accurate as within three metres, but in other cases it could be hundreds of metres," Lord said in an interview.
He says more than half of all 911 calls in Canada are made from cellphones.
The CRTC gave Canada's wireless carriers until Feb. 1 to provide the improved 911 service after several people who called for help from cellphones died because emergency dispatchers couldn't find them.
Lord noted there are some agencies that will not be up and running on Monday because they need to do some additional testing, adding there are a few areas in Quebec not yet covered.
"It's question of time," he said. "The work is being done. It's an evolving situation."
Lord noted cellphone users must have GPS-enabled cellphones for the technology to work. GPS technology doesn't work well in buildings, especially basements and underground parking garages.
Cell towers can also use signals to determine an approximate location of the mobile phone.
In rural or remote areas, there may only be one cell tower and it would be located by emergency services, not the exact location of a person, Lord said.
"I think it's important to realize there have been significant improvements but the technology is not in place and does not exist to pinpoint every individual in every case."
Jody Robertson, spokeswoman for E-COMM 911 emergency communications centre for southwest British Columbia, said her organization worked with Telus, Bell and Rogers for the past 10 months to provide the upgraded service.
"The technology will shrink the current search area from up to about 4,000 metres to 300 metres or less," said Robertson.
"Depending on signal strength and the terrain it could even be significantly less than that."
But it won't provide an exact address or location, Robertson said.
"Callers, themselves, still remain the best source of information."
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the project was complex and technologically challenging.
"We had to test this in every 911 operation centre across Canada," Hall said. "It's important to have one way of doing it across the country that makes it workable."
He said the upgrade cost Telus (TSX:T) $17 million, while Lord said the entire improvement cost "multiple millions" of dollars.
A report last summer said callers with pre-paid phones wouldn't benefit from the benefit from GPS-assisted 911 technology.
Lord said cellphone subscribers should check with their wireless carriers to find out what services they have.
He also said 911 calls by out-of-country visitors to the Vancouver Winter Olympics will go through.

Organizations: Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Telus, CRTC TSX

Geographic location: Canada, MONTREAL, Quebec British Columbia Vancouver

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